Image: Feather duster and cleaners by stevepb./pixabay.
Roughly six months ago, we had just passed Purim and were spending a month getting ready for Passover. For many Jews, that means housecleaning: getting rid of all the chametz in the house. (For more about that process, see Passover Prep: We Begin in Egypt.)
During the month of Elul, we do a different kind of housecleaning, spiritual housecleaning. We want to be ready for Rosh Hashanah and the Days of Awe, ready for a new year and a new beginning. This is the time to clean up the old crumby chametz-like things in our lives, be they bad habits or relationships that have gone sour.
There is also a tradition that on Rosh Hashanah, each of us is personally judged by our Creator. We get that from this text:
On Rosh Hashanah all the people of the world pass before [God] like a division of soldiers, as it says, “He who fashions the hearts of them all, who discerns all their doings” (Psalms 33:15).M. Rosh Hashanah 1:2
That mishnah (early rabbinic discussion) is the earliest mention of a judgment on Rosh Hashanah. In the Bible, it is the day of blowing the shofar and the beginning of the month of Tishrei. But for rabbinic Jews, Rosh Hashanah is also a day for reviewing the state of the human race. As members of humanity, we clean up and put ourselves in order for that day.
The question then is, what needs to be cleaned up in the coming month? What habits need to change, if we are to be the best versions of ourselves? What apologies need be made for misdeeds and neglect over the past year? What in our life is old, stale, moldy, or maybe even poisonous? This is the time to clean up!